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Audi's S5 Coupe a tempting two-door car

Sunday, January 27, 2008

(Photo)
The 2008 Audi S5, with harmonious lines mixed with a sumptuous sportiness, looks gorgeous and sounds great.
(Associated Press)
Two-door cars aren't popular these days because practical-minded consumers prefer the versatile cargo and passenger spaces found in hatchbacks, some sedans, sport utility vehicles and crossover SUVs.

But oh, how the 2008 Audi S5 Coupe can tempt car buyers to forget all about practicality.

This new Audi, with harmonious lines mixed with a sumptuous sportiness, looks gorgeous and sounds great, with deep, rich V-8 tones emanating quickly when the gas pedal is pushed.

And the all-wheel drive S5 handles its brawny engine power in a classy fashion, with smooth, no-fuss acceleration and capable tire grip.

Who cares if the back seat is confining and will accommodate only two people? Who cares that the S5 is rated at only 14 miles a gallon in city driving, which is less than many SUVs? Who cares that the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge and federal gas guzzler tax, is $52,575 for a manual-transmission model?

This isn't your everyday, practical ride.

A low-volume model, the S5 is the uplevel, sporty version of Audi's mid-range A5 line.

And the S5 just may go down in history as a timeless car with sexy grand turismo styling where details are done right.

I marveled every time I walked up to the test S5 at how perfectly the 19-inch tires fit inside the car's wheel wells with nary any empty space left.

I rarely like white cars -- they can look too much like kitchen or laundry appliances. But there I was, admiring the lustrous qualities of the Ibis White paint on the S5.

And there was the shape -- sleek, low to the pavement and masking the rather large dimensions of this two-door car.

The S5 is more than 15 feet long, which is about as long as a Honda Pilot SUV. At around 3,900 pounds for a manual transmission model, the S5 weighs as much as some SUVs, too.

But its dimensions and heft are capably handled by the ample V-8 engine power, precise suspension settings and standard quattro all-wheel drive.

Best of all, the ride is balanced by a blend of luxury and sporty characteristics, including thick, comfortable, front leather bucket seats, awesome, optional Bang & Olufsen premium sound system and well-designed controls that are no nonsense and functional, not gimmicky.

The S5's 4.2-liter, double overhead cam, direct injection V-8 isn't new. But for this coupe, it's reworked a bit to deliver 354 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm.

The test car moved swiftly and impressively even from a dead stop because 85 percent of the engine's peak torque is provided by the time the engine hits 2,000 rpm.

Heck, inside a parking garage, I was moving way faster than I could believe when I glanced down at the speedometer. This heavy car just doesn't feel like it's moving that quickly.

The speedometer takes some getting used to. It's calibrated so the needle points to 40 miles per hour at a point in the gauge that on other cars usually only indicates a car is traveling at 25 mph. This is because the S5 speedometer goes all the way to 200 mph, though the car is electronically limited to 155 mph here in the States.

By the way, the S5's 0-to-60-miles-per-hour time is about 5 seconds, which puts this coupe in sports car territory. And the tester blew the doors off slower cars merging onto freeways.

But I got pitiful mileage. Highway fuel economy is rated at just 16 mpg by the federal government, and fillups of the required premium gasoline were costly and frequent. The S5 gas tank holds just 16.6 gallons, so I often needed to stop after less than 250 miles of travel.

But the driving was so enjoyable, I kept racking up the miles.

The six-speed manual moved well from gear to gear, and I didn't fuss trying to find the right gear. Everything seemed to be in the right place and gearing was so comfortable, I had to consciously choose to get the S5 near the redline of 7,000 rpm to see what it was like. Otherwise, it was so easy to drive in a spirited manner without needing to get near the redline.

Besides the manual, a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission also is available.

Controls are commendable for their layout and tactile precision. Many in the S5 are redundant so a driver doesn't have to use the Audi Multimedia Interface with large knob to adjust ventilation or radio volume, for example. Radio volume can be adjusted via a mechanism on the steering wheel, while ventilation can be manipulated on the dashboard.

All safety equipment is standard on the S5, including side-mounted air bags and head curtain air bags as well as height-adjustable head restraints for all four seats.

In addition, every S5 comes with Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system that provides power to all four wheels. In the test car, quattro ensured quick get up and go without any tire spin.

The S5 also conveys a bit of a rear-wheel drive sensation because the torque distribution is programmed to normally be apportioned with 40 percent of power going to the front wheels and 60 percent to the back.

Riding on a new platform, the S5 manages most road bumps without fuss and without overtly punishing passengers.

There is some feeling of weight, or mass, shifting when the S5 is driven aggressively through curves and turns, though. And the thick metal pillar surrounding the rear window can obstruct views as a driver is backing out of parking spaces.


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